Friday, February 23, 2018

238 A-level chemistry answer scripts from 4 Singapore JCs stolen in Britain, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

238 A-level chemistry answer scripts from 4 Singapore JCs stolen in Britain, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

238 A-level chemistry answer scripts from 4 Singapore JCs stolen in Britain

SINGAPORE - A parcel containing A-level chemistry answer scripts from 238 Singapore students was stolen from a courier van transporting the papers to an examiner in Britain last November.

Despite extensive efforts to trace the scripts for Chemistry Paper 3, which carries 35 per cent of the marks for the subject, they have not been recovered.

Meanwhile, the 238 affected students from four junior colleges - Anderson JC, Anglo-Chinese JC, Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang JC - have been awarded final grades based on their performance in the other three chemistry papers and their cohort's performance in chemistry.

The 238 affected students make up about 3 per cent of the total 8,843 students who sat the paper.

To check for consistency, Cambridge Assessment and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) also took into consideration the candidates' school-based examination results.

SEAB said all 238 candidates obtained at least a pass grade, with 81 per cent of them scoring As and Bs. More than 50 per cent are said to have scored As.

"All of them attained better grades or maintained their grades compared to their school-based examinations," said a SEAB spokesman on Friday (Feb 23).

Those unhappy with the awarded grades can also choose to resit Paper 3 in April and results will be released by mid-May 2018.

In addition, candidates in full-time national service have the option of resitting the paper in November and their results will be released by February 2019.

The re-examination will be based on the same curriculum that the candidates had been taught in school and pegged at the same standard as the 2017 paper. The examination format will also remain unchanged.

Those who choose to resit the paper will have the better of the two grades recorded.

SEAB will work with local universities to ensure that their applications for places or scholarships are not affected.

When asked why SEAB informed the students about the incident only on Friday, it said that informing the students earlier without being able to share their awarded grades would have caused undue anxiety.

SEAB also said that grade projections for the 238 affected candidates could be done only after all chemistry papers for the whole cohort had been marked.

Ms Tan Lay Choo, chief executive of SEAB, said the board has taken all necessary steps to ensure that the affected candidates were not put at a disadvantage and were given a valid and fair assessment.

She said that Cambridge Assessment and SEAB have an established procedure to award grades to candidates who miss a paper with valid reasons, such as illness. When the weighting of the paper does not exceed 50 per cent of the total score, a re-examination is not required.

This procedure is a well-established practice among British examination boards.

Ms Tan said that Cambridge has given its assurance that it would review its processes to prevent a recurrence.

She added: "We understand the concerns that the affected candidates may have. SEAB and schools are in contact with them and their parents and will continue to provide them with the necessary support."

The parcel containing the scripts was one of eight parcels stolen from a locked courier van. It was the only parcel containing examination scripts.

The courier reported the theft to the British police but efforts to recover the scripts have so far been unsuccessful. Police investigations are still ongoing.

This is the second time that Singapore examination scripts have gone missing. The last time was in 1993, when the then University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate lost the O-level scripts of 259 Singapore students who sat the English literature paper.

The scripts which were sent to an examiner were lost in the British postal service and never recovered.

The students were awarded grades based on their performance in their schools' preliminary examinations. They were also given the option to resit the examination.

Mr Roderic Gillespie, director for assessment at Cambridge International, said Cambridge Assessment takes its responsibilities very seriously to ensure that all transport arrangements for examination scripts are secure.

He said the agency has been working with the courier company and British police to locate the stolen answer scripts but unfortunately, they have not been recovered.

"The security of examination papers is of the utmost importance to us. Cambridge Assessment will continue to review the situation with the police and the courier company."

The Straits Times spoke to four affected students, and three out of the four were happy with their A and B grades.

Nanyang JC student Zou Pei Pei, 19, who got a B, said the majority of her affected classmates did well and were not planning to resit the paper. "I believe the predicted marks were quite fair and they took into account many things."

Another student from the same JC said he scored an A despite not answering a third of Paper 3. "I still got an A even though I was expecting a B or C. However, God listened to my prayers and this incident happened, resulting in my distinction."

A Hwa Chong Institution student, though, was unhappy at the B grade she was awarded and said she is considering resitting the paper. "I couldn't believe it when we were told of the incident. Anyway, I think I could have managed an A, that's why I am not happy with my B. It matters when you are applying for a highly competitive university course."

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Snowflake Boy's Chinese New Year wish: A scolding from his mother, Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Snowflake Boy's Chinese New Year wish: A scolding from his mother, Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Snowflake Boy's Chinese New Year wish: A scolding from his mother

ZHUANSHANBAO - All "Snowflake Boy" Wang Fuman - who received an outpouring of gifts and sympathy when photographs of his ice-flecked hair and eyebrows after a freezing, hour-long trek to school went viral - wants this Chinese New Year is a reunion with the mother who left him behind two years ago.

According to the South China Morning Post, the eight-year-old's message for his mother, Lu Dafeng, was: "Mum, I don't want to wait any longer only to be disappointed again … can you please come back?

"Mum, I want you to beat me and scold me for my mistakes - the way other mothers do to their children. At least, then, you would be by my side. Please come back."

His father, Wang Gangkui, told the Hong Kong daily that Lu had left the family in 2016 to escape a life of poverty. She came back to the family's village of Zhuanshanbao in China's Yunnan Province in July last year to ask for a divorce, but left the next day after 29-year-old Wang turned her down.

"I haven't been able to find her as she changed her mobile phone number and never called us after she left," he said.

"I know she hated how poor we were and believed I was not capable (of making money to better our lives). We often quarrelled over this in the past. Then she left me."

Before the estrangement, Wang and Lu had been construction workers in Kunming, located more than 300 km away from their village.

They would head home every three or four months to see their two children, Fuman and his 10-year-old sister Fumei, who lived in a mud house with Wang's mother. The house, built about 20 years ago, has no toilet or running water.

Wang said baths, taken at the public bathroom a 10-minute walk away from home, were rare, with children and seniors taking them just once every year or two and adults once every two months.

Fuman last month became an Internet sensation when photos of him in class, red-cheeked and with icicles in his hair and eyebrows, was widely shared online. He had walked nearly 5km to school in minus 9 deg C conditions.

His plight drew an outpouring of gifts and donations, with the Kunming branch of China Construction Third Engineering Bureau, for one, giving 144 sets of winter clothing and 20 heaters to the Fuman's school, and Chinese Communist Party propaganda website, China Peace, sponsoring a free trip to Beijing for Fuman and his family.

His father, Wang, has been given a job as a construction worker in his village so he can spend time with his children, and will start his new job atfter Chinese New Year.

Wang told the South China Morning Post that in the first few months after Lu left, the children cried constantly, and kept asking for their mother.

Even now, they miss her deeply, he added.

"I'm still hoping for my wife to return to me. I want to tell her: please come back for the sake of our children," he said.

"I may be poor now, but I believe, as long as we work hard, our lives can become better."

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Parliament: Singapore will wither if society is rigid and stratified by class, says PM Lee, Politics News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Parliament: Singapore will wither if society is rigid and stratified by class, says PM Lee, Politics News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Parliament: Singapore will wither if society is rigid and stratified by class, says PM Lee

SINGAPORE - Singapore's politics will turn vicious, its society will fracture and the country will wither if it allows widening income inequalities to create "a rigid and stratified social system", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Feb 5).

"The issues of mitigating income inequality, ensuring social mobility and enhancing social integration are critical," he wrote in a reply to a parliamentary question from Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

"This is why this Government will strive to keep all Singaporeans - regardless of race, language, religion or social background - together."

Mr Gan asked PM Lee about the current state of income inequality and whether the Government has plans to prevent this income gap from creating divisions along class lines.

He also asked the prime minister whether an inter-ministerial committee can be set up to look into better integration of all social classes in Singapore.

To the last, PM Lee said a specific committee is not necessary since government ministries already seek to tackle these challenges in "a concerted and coordinated effort".

"As globalisation and technological disruption have widened income inequality, the Government has over the years intervened more aggressively to support the less well-off," he said, citing both long-term policies such as quality education, home ownership and affordable healthcare as well as targeted, means-tested schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement scheme.

Mr Gan's questions come in the wake of an Institute of Policy Studies' report on social capital, released last December, which concluded that Singapore is increasingly stratified along class lines, more so than race or religion.

Its survey of about 3,000 respondents found that people were more likely to share social ties with others from a similar educational background or housing type, which are common indicators of socioeconomic level in Singapore.

"If what the study is saying is true, then it is timely that it is detected and we should (strive) to resolve the gaps before they widen too far," Mr Gan told The Straits Times.

In his reply, PM Lee said that income inequality in Singapore has declined slightly over the past decade. The Gini coefficient fell from 0.470 in 2006 to 0.458 in 2016 - and further to 0.402 after accounting for Government taxes and transfers.

The Gini coefficient measures the fairness of social wealth distribution. A value of "0" indicates perfect equality, while a value of "1" suggests maximum inequality.

While Singapore's Gini coefficient is higher than that of many other advanced countries, it is is similar to or lower than other large metropolitan centres such as Beijing, London and New York, said PM Lee.

To fund increased social spending, "significant changes" were made - from the introduction of GST in 1994 to the increased reliance on Net Investment Return Contributions as a source of revenue.

In terms of social mobility, PM Lee said every citizen in a fair and just society must have the opportunity to do better and move up in society, based on his efforts and talent.

"Some degree of income inequality is natural in any economy. It gives people the motivation to strive to do their best and improve their lives," he said.

"But in a fair and just society, this inequality must be tempered and complemented by social mobility. Every citizen, no matter what his social background is, must have the opportunity to do better and move up in society, based on his efforts and talent. Nobody should feel that his social position is fixed based on his parents' income level or position in life."

Education is a critical plank of the Government's efforts, he stressed, whether it is in building up pre-schools and having programmes such as KidStart for children from poor families, giving out bursaries and subsidies, or getting people to go for training via SkillsFuture.

"We must not and will not let up on maintaining social mobility, because it will get harder to narrow and bridge class divisions as our society matures."

Meanwhile, the Government takes a "deliberate and proactive approach" on measures that encourage integration between classes. This involves multiple agencies, such as urban planners in designing shared spaces like hawker centres and playgrounds, and Housing Board in crafting policies that enable ethnic and social mixing.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said in a separate reply that her ministry has been working to nurture social cohesion by creating more opportunities for positive interactions, such as through sports, arts and volunteering activities.

"Social harmony is not something we can leave to chance," she wrote, in response to a question by Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) who asked about measures to bridge social gaps.

Said PM Lee: "In Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious context, we have to do even more to reinforce our shared values and actively create opportunities for interaction and integration both across different social classes and between different races and religions.

"Only by living, working, studying, serving, playing, mourning and celebrating together do we become one people, one nation."

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